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Deaf Student champions deaf awareness and sign language education in schools 

Education and teaching

May 3, 2022

A deaf student studying to be a teacher at Edge Hill University is highlighting the importance of sign language lessons during Deaf Awareness Week.

Martha Ryan, from Coventry, is in her third year studying BA (Hons) Children’s Learning and Development, a course she chose because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the amazing teachers who taught her she could achieve anything.  

Martha Ryan with children from Eastcroft Park School.

The theme of this year’s Deaf Awareness Week, which takes place from 2 to 8 May, is #MyDeafStory and Martha’s own story shows why she wants to teach the next generation about deafness. 

Martha Ryan

Martha said: “Throughout my education, I have faced many challenges, due to my deafness. Despite this, I have been fortunate enough to experience both mainstream and residential specialist secondary education at a school for the deaf.  

“Going to a residential school meant I developed close bonds with my teachers. These teachers showed me I have potential which I did not see in myself; I looked up to my teachers. It’s what inspired me to become a teacher and give back that same positive experience of learning; I want to set that example for my class now.” 

Martha is keen to use her new teaching skills to educate children about deafness and how learning sign language can be a useful life skill. While on a recent placement, Martha taught a Year Two class from Eastcroft Park Primary School to perform the song This Is Me from The Greatest Showman in sign language. 

“Sign language is something I will always appreciate.” Martha added. “I learnt sign language when I moved to a deaf school at the age of thirteen, it is a skill I will be forever proud of and love showing off whenever I get the chance.

“I wanted to teach the children sign language as it is such a unique skill for them to learn. When I told the year twos that they would be learning it, it was like they’d been told Santa Claus was coming to the classroom. I have never seen their faces light up as much as that; I will forever cherish that memory. “ 

“I chose to teach them in the form of a song as I thought this would be the most engaging activity, it allowed them to move about within the classroom, stand up and perform for a crowd which is totally different from what they do usually.” 

There have been some recent high-profile stories raising awareness of deafness, including the acclaimed performances of Rose Ayling-Ellis in Strictly Come Dancing and the efforts of West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper, whose new bill will see British Sign Language recognised as an official language. However, Martha thinks there is still a long way to go.  

“Common use of sign language is still something you just don’t come across that often. Thanks to the publicity sign language has received this year, people’s eyes are opening and they are learning more about deafness, but it is something which needs to continue to be talked about to bring about real change.”  

Throughout her time at University, Martha has received support from Edge Hill’s inclusion team, the Faculty of Education and her friends. She’s had sign language interpreters and note takers in lessons and will have a signer present for her graduation in July. 

Discussing her time at Edge Hill she said: “I know I have been truly lucky with my course, I adore my course mates and our girls’ nights, we’ve become such a close-knit bunch. I have built positive professional relationships with lecturers and especially my personal tutor. This gorgeous University has given me the opportunity to become a social butterfly without letting my deafness get in the way.” 

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May 3, 2022